Each year, more than 750 million passengers are carried by buses in this country. With so many lives as stake, decreasing catastrophic bus accidents should be an obvious concern. In fact, the federal agency responsible for investigating transportation accidents has placed improving bus safety as a top priority for 2013.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal organization that investigates traffic accidents throughout the country. It also has a twin role of promoting transportation safety. While it has no regulatory powers, it does offer recommendations to make the nation’s skies, roads and waterways safer. Each year it publishes a “Most Wanted List” – a set of safety priorities it wishes to pursue in the upcoming year. In mid-November the NTSB announced its “Most Wanted List” for 2013 and “Improving the Safety of Bus Operations” was the number two item on the list.
As with many trucking and other commercial vehicle accidents, the agency states that the leading cause for motorcoach accidents rests with either the driver or the company that owns the vehicle. Specifically, distracted, impaired or tired drivers have led to a majority of fatal accidents. The NTSB also focuses its concern on unscrupulous bus companies that regularly engage in unsafe practices and acts of negligence. This danger is compounded when these companies are shut down but go back into business under a different name or U.S. Department of Transportation number.
Steps to Decrease Bus Accidents
While pointing out the main causes of bus accidents, the NTSB has recommendations for addressing them.
First, bus drivers should be better scrutinized, both before employment and while they’re on the job. Bus operators need to conduct in-depth examinations of their employees’ driving records prior to their hiring. The NTSB asserts that companies need to employ on-board video technology to monitor their drivers’ skill and performance. Bus drivers should also be subject to regular medical checkups to assess their capability for handling the physical and mental demands of their job. Plus, the NTSB recommends that a driver’s time behind the wheel is better scheduled to provide proper rest.
In holding bus operators accountable for passenger safety, the NTSB calls for renewed emphasis on safety when companies go through the approval process to begin operations, as well as when they are up and running. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is responsible for granting operating licenses to motorcoach companies, needs to dig deeper into the safety plans for new applicants while closely monitoring the safety performance of existing companies. If a company is shut down due to consistent and serious safety violations, there needs to be new safeguards put in place that ensures it’s not allowed to start again under a different name.
There were 13,400 buses involved in crashes in the United States in 2009 – the most recent statistics available. More than 250 people died and 20,000 people were injured in those accidents.